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Hurricane Joaquin strengthens: Will it make landfall in the US?

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is monitoring hurricane Joaquin and preparing for a landfall.

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Hurricane Joaquin is seen approaching the Bahamas in this NOAA GOES East satellite image taken at 09:15 p.m., September 30, 2015.

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From Washington, D.C., to Boston pounding rain has ushered in autumn. Hurricane Joaquin is strengthening in the Atlantic as of Wednesday, and the northeast is bracing for the possibility of more wicked weather.

The US National Hurricane Center (NHC) said Joaquin is expected to become a major hurricane, although forecast models have been split on whether it would make landfall in the United States.

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By Wednesday night Joaquin, the third hurricane of the 2015 Atlantic season, has intensified with maximum sustained winds of 115 miles per hour, pushing it to a Category 3 on a scale of 1 through 5. 

The US National Hurricane Center in Miami said Joaquin was centered about 90 miles east of San Salvador and about 170 miles east of the Central Bahamas late Wednesday. The hurricane was about 80 miles east-northeast of the central Bahamas and continues to strengthen, the NHC said.

"Additional strengthening is forecast during the next 48 hours, and Joaquin is expected to become a major hurricane during the next 24 hours," it said.

New Jersey, New York, and Connecticut governors, states that bore the bunt of hurricane Sandy in 2012, are warning residents to prepare for a severe storm. The memory of Sandy-related losses still linger: that storm killed more than 120 people and caused some $70 billion in property damage.

"Our state has seen the damage that extreme weather can cause time and time again," said New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D). "Take precautions for more heavy storms in the coming days."

Bahamas residents on the islands closest to Joaquin's path, which include Rum Cay, Long Island, Exuma, and Eleuthera, were stocking up on food and drink supplies and boarding up homes and businesses.

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The central Bahamas and northwestern Bahamas were under a hurricane warning, the NHC said.

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A complicated atmospheric pattern has made Joaquin particularly difficult to track, according to Weather Channel forecasters, who said it was too soon to determine what impact Joaquin could have on the US East Coast starting this weekend.

As of Thursday at 5 a.m. Eastern Time, the NHC said:

Confidence in the details of the forecast after 72 hours remains low, as there have been some large changes in the model guidance overnight.  The range of possible outcomes is still large, and the possibility of a hurricane landfall in the Carolinas still cannot be ruled out.

The last hurricane to make landfall in the continental United States was Arthur, which hit North Carolina as a Category 2 storm in July 2014, bringing high winds, driving rain and storm surges up the East Coast.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the Federal Emergency Management Agency was monitoring the storm and preparing for a possible hit.

A hurricane warning is in effect for the Central Bahamas, including Cat Island, the Exumas, Long Island, Rum Cay, and San Salvador; and the Northwestern Bahamas, including the Abacos, Berry Islands, Eleuthera, Grand Bahama Island, and New Providence. A hurricane watch is in effect for Bimini and Andros Island.

This report contains material from Reuters and the Associated Press.